I’m going to be straightforward. Zac Goldsmith has done more for the green cause within the Conservative Party than anyone else. He’s taken opposing positions from his own party’s leadership, most probably at the expense of a promising Cabinet career. On opposing Heathrow expansion and giving constituents the right to recall their Member of Parliament I, like many others, would be in agreement with Zac.
This makes Zac Goldsmith the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party at next year’s London Mayoral and Assembly election.
But Londoners must not be taken in. While Zac Goldsmith talks a good game, he shares the same economic values as the rest of the Conservative Party. On taking steps to remove the UK from Europe, ending the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for college students in England and dismantling social security for those who physically and mentally cannot work, Zac Goldsmith has been a loyal Conservative and marched through the same lobby as David Cameron and George Osborne.
When it comes to creating opportunities for new Londoners from overseas, fixing the scourge of the free market in the private rented sector and making local economies more resilient to the volatile antics of banks, Zac Goldsmith has been absent.
The unrestrained economic model Zac Goldsmith and George Osborne both subscribe to is not only the underlying driver of the environmental and energy crisis we are facing, but it is also inhibiting the solutions we need to mitigate the impact of climate change on our standard of living.
I’ve been telling Greens that I believe next year’s election will be a make or break moment for the party. While previous showings in 2008 and 2012 were good for the Greens – despite the squeeze from Boris and Ken – a Zac Goldsmith candidacy poses a new threat, not only with traditional Green voters but voters we hope to win for the first time.
When I was part of Jenny Jones’ mayoral campaign team in 2012, the focus was the usual green issues of safer cycling, air pollution and London’s ongoing housing crisis. These are all important. But the problems are a symptom of a much bigger issue; every aspect of London life is being turned into a commodity.
Commercial haulage is prioritised over the lives of cyclists. Property speculation is encouraged at the expense of those who just want a decent home. Polluters are favoured over those who want clean air to breathe. Cuts to public services are the result of pursuing credit-fuelled, and often illusory, growth. Everything is assigned a price. The highest bidder wins.
It is imperative that Greens move out of our comfort zone and show our widespread appeal. This won’t be a referendum on air quality or climate change, but a battle for the kind of city we all want London to be. This is why I’m proposing a practical Green offer for every single Londoner.
London is a world-class city. But what Zac Goldsmith might not realise from his seat in Richmond is that too often Londoners aren’t getting the world-class jobs or the world-class services we deserve.
Good jobs for young people, affordable homes for every family, opportunities for new Londoners, stronger local economies and a transport network we can all be proud of. That’s my offer for Londoners if I’m selected as the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor.
The Green Party cannot fight this election from our historical strongholds and cannot consign ourselves to speaking solely to the City’s protest groups. London’s Greens need a candidate for Mayor who can take our offer to Londoners whether they are in Richmond, Redbridge or any other borough.
All the frontrunners from the two big parties are experienced, battle-hardened politicians. They know how to play the game. Greens need to select a candidate who can go toe-to-toe with Zac Goldsmith and provide a renunciation of his economic values. More importantly, they need a candidate who can articulate an offer that can appeal to every Londoner and a candidate who is capable of building a competitive campaigning organisation in all thirty-two boroughs.
Zac Goldsmith is perhaps the biggest threat to the fortunes of the Green Party in the capital but Green Party members can seize the moment and make next year’s election a genuinely Green one.
Jonathan Bartley is running to be the Green Party’s candidate for Mayor of London. He is the Green Party’s national Work and Pensions spokesperson and was the Parliamentary candidate for Streatham at the 2015 general election. He is a founder and co-director of Ekklesia, a radical Christian think-tank. He tweets as @jon_bartley.